Volt Owners Offered Free Loaner Vehicles until NHTSA Safety Probe Concluded

Owners of General Motors Company’s Chevrolet Volt plug-in hybrid vehicles are being offered free loaner cars until the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration concludes its probe of the Volt’s lithium-ion battery pack.

The probe was launched this past Friday and was prompted by a fire which erupted in a Volt that had been used in an NHTSA side-impact crash test last May. The fire, which was attributed to a problem with the vehicle’s battery pack, was so intense that in addition to consuming the Volt, it also caught two other nearby vehicles on fire.

There have been other reports of Chevrolet Volts catching fire after being involved in severe crashes. There has also been a report of a Volt catching fire while parked in the owner’s garage.

GM’s North American president Mark Reuss said, “I believe in the safety of the Volt,” but added, “Our customers’ peace of mind is the most important thing. This technology should inspire confidence and pride, not raise any concern or doubt.”

General Motors has begun sending letters to Volt owners, reassuring them their vehicles are “safe to drive.” The letters also aim to inform owners that the NHTSA’s probe focuses on the potential risk of fire that can arise in the hours, days or even weeks following a severe collision. The Volt that was used in the NHTSA test caught fire while in a storage facility, three weeks after the side-impact test was performed.

The letter offers concerned owners the option of a free loaner vehicle “until the issue is resolved.” Reuss said the offer “underlines our commitment to the vehicle and its owners.”

The company has put together a team of experienced engineers to help establish industry-wide protocols and to “”develop changes to eliminate concern of potential post-crash electrical fires.”

The NHTSA’s official position is that electric vehicles, like the Volt, post no greater fire risk than conventional gasoline-powered vehicles.

The NHTSA conducted three follow-up impact tests on the Volt’s battery pack this month. Two of the three tests resulted in the battery packs catching fire.

In a statement issued last Friday, the NHTSA said, “The agency is concerned that damage to the Volt’s batteries as part of three tests that are explicitly designed to replicate real-world crash scenarios have resulted in fire. Chevy Volt owners whose vehicles have not been in a serious crash do not have reason for concern.”

GM has been cooperating with the NHTSA since the original battery fire occurred last May. The automaker says that it has not received any reports of similar fires from Volt owners.

GM’s head of product development, Mary Barra, said the fire that occurred three weeks after the NHTSA’s side-impact crash test last May, was caused by the electronic components inside the Volt’s lithium-ion battery pack, not the chemistry of the battery itself. She also said that the fire could likely have been prevented if the battery had been drained after being damaged in the test.

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